ST. PAUL — Over the course of a dozen seasons as a player in the National Hockey League, Dean Evason’s longest playoff run — with the 1986 Hartford Whalers — lasted 10 games. So he likes to joke that he never really got a chance to grow much of a playoff beard.
By contrast, his face is covered in all shades of black, gray and white these days as he waits in his Twin Cities home for the NHL to restart, and to hopefully get another chance to prove he is worthy of a more permanent posting behind the Minnesota Wild’s bench.
Evason, 55, was elevated to interim head coach for the Wild on Valentine’s Day, after Bruce Boudreau was dismissed. Under Evason’s direction, the team won 8 of 12 games and was making a push for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference when the season was suspended on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We were excited about where our group was and where our game was. We thought that we were playing really well, with a lot of excitement, energy and speed, and we were playing the game the right way,” Evason said in a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday morning, April 22. “Clearly everybody is disappointed, as we were, that it got shut down with us one point out of a playoff spot and really feeling good about our game.”
Evason said that he and his assistants have a detailed multi-day plan drawn up to quickly get Wild players back on the ice if the league resumes play. He acknowledges that would be a huge challenge, with players scattered throughout North America and Europe. In a normal fall, when players report for training camp, they have usually been skating much of the summer. If the NHL gives a two-week notice that games will be played again — with or without fans, at neutral sites, whatever — most players will have been off the ice for a month or more.
“Sure, it would be difficult, but we would adapt and the players would adapt. They would figure it out.” Evason said. “I’ve heard people say that the playoffs wouldn’t be as intense. I don’t believe that would be the case. Once the game’s played and the puck’s dropped, the players play the game.”
In the meantime, Evason has an exercise bike in one bathroom of his condo, he has a portable heater set up there so he can stick to his hot yoga routine, and like most hockey people do in the spring in Minnesota, he’s been getting out on the golf courses since the governor opened them up.
The NHL Draft has also been postponed, but the restocking of the prospect pool is just one task that Wild general manager Bill Guerin will have to handle in this strange pseudo off-season. He will also need to decide if the team’s next permanent head coach is already on the job.
Evason does not bemoan that, after several seasons as a minor league head coach and NHL assistant coach, his first chance to run his own team at the top level at the game may have lasted just a dozen games. He is focused on what the future might be like if games return sometime in the coming months. He is hopeful that his abbreviated tryout behind the team bench is enough to erase the word “interim” in his title.
“Hopefully we’ve done enough to go forward,” Evason said.